Understanding the Orchestra

1 day, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm

French horn

The sound of a great symphony orchestra in full flight is one of the most thrilling sounds in all of western classical music. This course explores the instruments of the orchestra and the variety of sounds they can achieve, and examines the growth and development of the symphony orchestra. We also explore the kind of music written for the orchestra, by examining some of the greatest composers and compositions of all time. No prior musical knowledge is necessary.

Course Outline

Session 1

  • What is a symphony orchestra?
  • Symphony Orchestra versus Philharmonic Orchestra
  • The Structure of a Symphony Orchestra
  • How sound is made
  • The instrument families
  • The layout of an orchestra

Session 2

  • The String Section
  • About string instruments
  • Individual string instruments
  • Violin, viola, cello, double bass, harp
  • The Woodwind Section
  • About woodwind instruments
  • Individual woodwinds
  • Flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon

Session 3

  • The Brass Section
  • About brass instruments
  • Individual brass instruments
  • Trumpet, trombone, horn, tuba
  • The Percussion Section
  • About percussion instruments
  • Tuned percussion instruments
  • Percussion instruments of indefinite pitch

Session 4

  • Conductors and Conducting
  • What the conductor does
  • Interpreting the work
  • Controlling the orchestra
  • Orchestration: how instruments combine
  • Aspects of orchestration
  • Orchestration as a part of composition
  • Orchestration and arrangement

Music we will listen to includes

  • Britten: The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra
  • Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusic
  • Ravel: String Quartet in F
  • Bach: Cello Suites
  • Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite
  • Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
  • Mozart: Flute Concerto No. 1
  • Vaughan Williams: Oboe Concerto
  • Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3
  • Stravinksy: The Rite of Spring
  • Mozart: Symphony No. 40
  • Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
  • Gershwin: An American in Paris

This is a shorter version of the 8-week course “A Beginner's Guide to the Orchestra.”


“I loved the course. It’ll make a difference, positively, at my next concert. Very helpful in ‘isolating’ instruments and sections of the orchestra. What I’ve learned will enhance my musical, emotional and spiritual experience at my next concert. Appreciated depth of knowledge of subject matter. A large subject covered very well” - Britta, Manly

“Susan has an immense store of musical knowledge which she presents by her command of technology ina most accessible and enjoyable way. A most enjoyable day” - Pam, Cammeray

“Informative and entertaining. The material was very well researched and perfect to demonstrate the subject. A really well delivered course which covered a large subject very efficiently” - Zandra, Elizabeth Bay

“Thank you Susan. The course today has helped me to understand more fully what I hear when I attend a concert. I particularly appreciated the explanation about the range of the instruments. These courses that you conduct are thoroughly prepared, have material and content helpful to both the beginner to classical music and to those with a little more knowledge keen to improve that knowledge. I really enjoy the analysis of the different pieces. Themes, forms etc all aid my appreciation of the music” - Felicity, McMahons Point

About Susan Deas

Susan Deas is a professional musician, lecturer and teacher. She has been teaching music appreciation courses for more than twenty years, through Sydney University's Centre for Continuing Education, WEA Sydney and at other venues. Her training includes a Bachelor of Music with a major in Performance (Piano) and Musicology, a Master of Music Studies (Studio Pedagogy), a Bachelor of Arts (Communications), and an A.Mus.A in Musicianship. Susan teaches piano and music theory to adults and children, and plays piano and organ at various venues around Sydney. Susan is an accredited piano teacher and musicianship teacher, and is on the Council of the Music Teachers’ Association of NSW.

More about Susan's qualifications

Read what people have said about Susan's other courses

Susan's other music courses